Think of the Caribbean as Nature's own water park. Just choose your favorite water sport and voila! - there's an island that creates your dream water-sports vacation. Think the best surfing's in the Pacific? Think again! (and read the scoop below). Love to sail? Scuba? Snorkel? Check, check and check - they're all excellent on islands in the Caribbean.
And the islands even have you reluctant jocks covered, too. If your idea of water sports is nothing more than just lazing on a floating mattress as gentle Caribbean wavelets rock and relax you, go for it! That's one sport skill everyone can master.
Surf's Up: Puerto Rico
For serious surfers,
Rincon is primo. On the western coast of Puerto Rico, this "corner" is the perfect spot where the turbulent Atlantic meets the calm Caribbean and produces famously mondo sets. The surf off Domes Beach, along Rincon's "Sunset Coast," is brilliant, especially between October and March. But it's also fun to "sufari" with the locals, cruising the succession of beaches along the coast in search of the perfect waves, the freshest break. This coast has plenty of surf shops offering gear, insider tips and even lessons. One more reason why some surfers call Rincon "the Maui of the Caribbean".
And while you're there
Think whales. From December through March, you can watch the annual migration of Humpbacks right off Rincon's beaches. Lighthouse Park is best on-shore location; or hop aboard a day-sail boat for some really close-up watching.
Just 10 minutes away from Domes Beach you'll find the serene Horned Dorset Resort, ready to soothe away surfer aches and bruises in ultra-luxe style. It's a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, so you know you can expect over-the-top pampering (as well as top rates). Luxury suites boast private plunge pools; there's a gourmet restaurant overlooking the sea and gorgeous tropical gardens, as well as yoga and massage to get you ready to ace tomorrow's sets.
Come Sail Away: St. Vincent and The Grenadines
The Caribbean's famous for its sail-ability... calm waters, easily-accessible islands, secluded bays for romantic anchorages. The Moorings, one of the region's oldest yacht-charter companies, can set you up with anything from a bareboat (for experienced sailors who want to rely on their own skills) to a skippered and crewed yacht (for those who just want to chill while experts do the sailing and the cooking).
One of the most spectacular sailing itineraries in the Caribbean is a cruise through the
Grenadines, a necklace of islands and tiny cays stretching between St. Vincent and Grenada. Sailors of all levels of expertise love this 45-mile stretch for its ideal sea conditions, unspoiled reefs for snorkeling and scuba, and miles of isles to visit: from to Palm Island (where you can drop by for lunch), to beautiful Bequia to the Tobago Cays marine park with its spectacular reefs to celeb-heavy Mustique
And while you're there
Although security-heavy Mustique emphatically discourages drop-by visitors, Basil's, the island's famous pub, warmly welcomes vacationing sailors.
Located on Mustique's western coast, this funky beach bar is famous for great West Indian food, free-flowing booze and hot music - you may just find yourself boogying with Prince William and Kate or maybe Mick, or Tommy or any of the other celebs who own villas on this ultra-chic island.
When you've had enough sailing, jump ship and luxuriate on land at Petit St. Vincent (nicknamed PSV). This private island is a tiny emerald jewel in the necklace of 32 islands that make up the Grenadines. This entire island has been designed to insure complete privacy. In fact, the routine here is so protective of your seclusion that you are able to control all outside contact by simply raising a flag outside your cottage: hoist the yellow one to signal it's OK for staff to deliver room service or whatever else you want The red flag means Everyone Stay Away!
PSV's 22 cottages, built of hardwood and a native stone, are hidden away in the tropical foliage all over this hilly 113-acre island; some high atop windswept bluffs; others nestled into the dunes, just steps from their own private stretch of beach. Each comes with a sundeck, living room, dressing room and one or two bathrooms.
All meals, drinks and afternoon tea are served in the main house. The atmosphere here is very convivial. (More than half of PSV's guests are loyal repeaters, returning year after year. They love this place, so they're famously welcoming to first-timers.) However, if you're not interested in joining even this small group, you can remain blissfully secluded for as long as you like. Some couples never leave their cottage and private beach for the entire vacation.
Sea-ing is Believing: The Cayman Islands
Jacques Cousteau wisely noted: "The best way to observe fish is to become a fish." To which we add: And snorkeling is the easiest way to become a fish; there are no scuba air-bubbles to scare them away; no heavy gear to lug around - you float quietly on the water and watch as the underwater world reveals itself.
Cayman Islands you can experience just about every snorkel experience known to Neptune. In Grand Cayman you can mingle with those beloved, people-friendly residents that swoop around Stingray City. There are sea turtles galore just off the shore near George Town. And the coral reef out near West Bay Cemetery is home to an abundance of rainbow fish and other colorful critters. And, a short-hop away on little-sister island, Cayman Brac, there's an u/w sight you won't see anywhere else in the entire world. In a remarkable labor of love, a local sculptor named Foots is busily creating his version of
The Lost City of Atlantis - just off the beach. It's a work-in-progress, but there's already plenty to see, an underwater world of life-size people, iconic archways, temples, and streets of this mythical city.
And While You're There
Stock up on Tortuga Rum Cakes for everyone back home. Moist and unbelievably delicious, these cakes were invented in the Cayman Islands (whose original name was Las Tortugas, the turtles). Liberally drenched in 5-year-old Tortuga Gold Rum, they're a yummy and unique taste of the islands. Great gifts for friends, family and yourself!
Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach is famous - so famous that it's almost always super-crowded. The beach that fronts The Reef (on the island's "undiscovered" East End) is equally beautiful, but it's also quiet, and its half-mile stretch is never crowded. The snorkeling here is excellent (one guest likened it to swimming in an aquarium). Lazy snorkelers can "become fishes," starting at one end of the beach and drifting along slowly to the other. The Reef's suites are romantic and spacious, and every one faces the beach and the sea. Deluxe Studios come with four-poster beds and Jacuzzis).
Winds+Waves+Boards: Dominican Republic
Arguably the most extreme of all water sports, windsurfing and kite-boarding (aka kite-sailing or kite-surfing) require specific wave and high wind and shallow water conditions, elements which can almost always be found in Caberete Bay on the Atlantic northern coast of the
Dominican Republic. Ranked among the 10 best locations in the world for these wind + water sports, Cabarete regularly hosts many international championship competitions including the Kite-boarding World Cup (for the past four years) and also ranks as the Windsurfing capital of the Caribbean.
Never tried either sport? No worries; Cabarete Bay's easterly trade winds blow gently in the mornings, creating ideal conditions for beginners. Dozens of rentals and schools line the beach and instruction is so sophisticated that you hear your instructor's immediate feedback through your helmet radio as you're out there learning.
And for experts, the winds kick up the waves every afternoon, creating satisfyingly challenging conditions or extreme thrills. And just five hundred yards offshore, swells and wind-driven waves hit the reef, churning up some of the best wave-sailing outside Hawaii.
And While You're There
Shop for amber. The D.R's north coast is also one of the world's richest sources of this ancient resin. You can take home souvenirs of this unusual gem in loose, un-set "stones," or in creatively crafted jewelry. Just beware of street vendor "bargains." Make sure your amber can pass these two authenticity tests: Real amber will float in a glass of water or club soda; plastic fakes sink. Also, real amber turns a bluish color under ultraviolet light. Any reputable jewelry store will have this special lighting available for its customers.
Cabarete is wildly popular with Europeans, most of whom spend their entire fortnight holidays at one of the dozens of large all-inclusive hotels that line the Bay. If you're seeking a more secluded setting, you can lose the crowds and still grab plenty of beachfront living at the Velero Beach Resort, a boutiquey condo of 58 privately-owned rooms and suites, which means a choice of plenty of styles and sizes. Tranquil and refined, this resort has a small infinity pool right on the beach, as well as a series of sexy little beach "beds" gauze-draped to shelter you from both the sun and from prying eyes.
The Urge To Submerge: Bonaire
Bonaire were a radio station, its slogan could be: "All dive, all the time." While just about every Caribbean island has underwater sites to see, Bonaire, in the Dutch Antilles, wins all the prizes. Its u/w reefs and marine life are universally recognized as the best and the best-preserved anywhere. (Bonaire consistently wins "best dive destination in the world" in the About.com Favorite Dive Destination Reader Poll, beating out international sites like Galapagos, Philippines, and Cozumel)
The waters surrounding the entire island are a designated Marine Park, protected by law and scientifically nurtured to insure healthy reefs and marine life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have concluded that Bonaire has "arguably the most pristine coral reef environment in the Caribbean."
Bonaire's reef system is so accessible you can dive pretty much anywhere around the entire island - from a boat, from off your hotel's dock, or from shore. Just throw your gear in your rental car's trunk and drive around. Along every route you'll see dozens of markers indicating a turn-off where there's a terrific site just off-shore.
And While You're There
Be sure to check out the flocks of wild flamingoes. You'll spot them - undulating blankets of pink - out in the salt flats while you're driving around the island checking out those dive-site markers.
Harbour Village is a seaside enclave of small Dutch Colonial-style buildings, each offering privacy in a luxury setting. Your suite is fronted by a garden-bordered patio where you can laze in double hammocks as you gaze at the sea that's just yards away. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this resort also offers a full-service dive operation on-site, with everything you'll need for your scuba vacation, including day boat trips over to Klein Bonaire, a tiny nearby island with its own surround of perfect reefs.
For more than 30 years, Brenda Fine has written travel articles on romance, honeymooning, adventure and pure love of travel for national and international magazines including Travel + Leisure, Islands, Caribbean Travel and Life, The Peak, Travel Holiday, Bridal Guide, Brides, Modern Bride, Endless Vacation , Diversion and others. Same for newspapers, which include The New York Times, The New York Law Journal, the Daily News and The Post.